An alim of Quran on the Birmingham fragments
By: Shaykh Ahmed Sa’ad Al-Azhari
With the great joy around the discovery of the Qur’an manuscript, here is what Qur’an expert and scholar, Shaykh Ayman Rushdi Suwayd (one of the highest authorities on Qur’anic Sciences today) says:
[Note, this is a summary of Shaykh’s words with my additions and observations]
1. We have to know one important point of difference between Western research methodology and research methodology in Islamic sciences. In western academia, ‘oldness’ represents a source of authenticity while in Islamic sciences ‘being old’ is not the only way or even the main way of proving the authenticity of something. We cannot accept a manuscript without knowing who wrote it and what he copied it from. If someone has written something from his head, even if this was during the Prophet’s time, peace be upon him, that is not authority. A manuscript of an unknown writer could have been written even by an enemy.
2. The Qur’an has been handed down through generations by means of tawātur (mass-narration) which technically means that the number of narrators is so huge that it is impossible to think that they have produced a lie. The number of narrators eliminates the possibility of fabrication or a mistake. The Quranic copies printed and used widely in the world today are based on tawatūr which means a Muslim in India and another in South America, who have never met, actually read the exact same Qur’an. An individual manuscript, even if its origin is known, remains a solitary narration which carries a possibility of error and therefore, its content is judged by its compliance with the mutawātir Qur’an, not the other way round.
3. As for the case in hand, Muslim scholars have developed rules relating to the script and the verse counting to confirm the authenticity of any discovered manuscript of the Qur’an. The copy of Sayyidna Abu Bakr is copied from the Qur’an written at the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him. And the copy of ‘Uthman was copied from the Abu Bakr copy. Scholars have studied deeply and documented what was there so that if today or in the future anyone says they have discovered a manuscript, we say: If it is in conformity with what we have, it is welcome but if not, then it has no value to us in terms of considering its content. Unless a manuscript is written in the proper process by known individuals, i.e. through the well-known methods of copying the Qur’an, we cannot refer back to it to validate or invalidate the Qur’an. What has been developed by the scholars through the ages is a structure and process that is enough and the Qur’an as it is in the Muslim hands today is as authentic and accurate as it was at the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him.
4. We should calm down and stop making assumptions and adding our own spices to the incident. We do not have to think that the discovery is a miracle unfolding for this or that reason. We believe in the Qur’an and we do not need miracles to increase our belief. Wisdom is appreciated. Do not be over joyous and do not try to read things in any excessive way.
Only Allah knows best.